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OPERATION EMBOSSED: Men who fought so hard to have EncroChat evidence thrown out WERE major drug suppliers and have now been jailed

THREE men who fought for years to have EnroChat evidence dismissed as inadmissable eventually admitted they were top-tier organised criminals involved in major drug supply.

The long-running Operation Embossed case folded when the last three defendants pleaded guilty ahead of trial after Judge Nicholas Dean, the Recorder of Manchester, refused to adjourn for an eagerly-awaited digital report of the EncroChat devices to be produced.

Liverpool property developer and drug importer Jonathan Cassidy (top right), his brother, former Liverpool and England youth football prodigy Jamie Cassidy, 46, and money man Nasar Ahmed (top left) had been fighting to have charges dropped through a series of high profile preparatory hearings that could not be reported on.

As a teenager, Jamie Cassidy played alongside Liverpool FC legends Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher.

At 15, he was England's leading goal scorer, scoring three goals in the European Championships in 1994.

But injury wrecked his career early on and it has since emerged he entered the world of organised crime with his older brother.

They centred around the lack of understanding over how the French authorities obtained the EncroChat data, before providing it to the National Crime Agency (NCA), and the reliability of the evidence since being charged in late 2020.

Prosecutor Richard Wright KC told Manchester Crown Court yesterday (March 20 2023) how the group sold multi kilos of cocaine embossed with Snowmen, 020 and 457, like a proper business using spreadsheets, balance sheets, statements, customer lists and accounts meetings to keep track of financies and exchange rates and commissions.

Jonathan Cassidy, 50, who used the handle whiskywasp when communicating on EncroChat, even charged other importers a fee to "piggy back" on his transport to bring loads of cocaine into the country.

He and Ahmed, 51, from Bury, each admitted a charge of conspiracy to fraudulently evade the prohibition on the importation of controlled drugs of class A, another of conspiracy to supply class A drugs and a third charge of conspiracy to transfer criminal property.

Jamie Cassidy pleaded guilty to the latter two charges.

Jonathan was involved in three cocaine importations in March and April totalling 356kg and was involved in money transfers in April 2020 for a prospective future importation, that didn't happen.

Ahmed, who used handle dottedjaw, acted as a money transfer agent and transferred part of the payments for the March and April 2020 importations.He used the Hawala system of moving cash, without it physically moving, and cryptocurrency to part fund the consignments.

The conspiracy concerned the movement of close to £10 million over just three months.

He also received a total of 29kg of class A drugs in 2020 as a middleman which he immediately passed on to co-conspirators.

The drugs were being purchased at a cost of between £22,500 and £28,000 and being sold on for between £30,000 and £32,500, a profit per kilogram of £2,000 to £10,000.

Comparisons between notes from Jonathan Cassidy’s (top left) Encro and Nasar Ahmed’s (above middle) suggest the former was being charged between 0.8 percent and 1 percent by the latter for each transaction.

Jamie Cassidy, (top right) whose EncroChat handle was NuclearDog, was not involved in importations and played a "managerial" role by directing those involved in making deliveries

and/or collections of drugs and money for a wage under instruction from older brother Jonathan.

There were also links to Dubai, which has developed a reputation as a city where wanted crooks can evade justice and launder proceeds of crime, with some of the cash being sent there.

Jonathan also lay low there between July and October 2020 after the arrest of Ahmed where he considered purchasing a villa for £2,300,00 with a £22,000 bed.

Unlike a stabdard business, there was no headquarters and large amounts of cash were stored and moved in Asda bags for Life.

Mr Wright told the court: "On 1 April 2020 Jonathan Cassidy took a picture of the television program he was watching, Narcos, and sent it to one of the lieutenants, SomeElectric.

"The man on the screen was the actor playing Joquain Guzman, more commonly known as El Chapo. Jonathan Cassidy joked with SomeElectric about the fact El Chapo has the same birthday as him.

"SomeElectric replied 'Coincidence I think fucking not', a joke about the fact both men had turned out to be Cocaine importers operating on an industrial scale."

The court heard that in April 2020 French police had infiltrated the supposedly secure EncroChat system, which included a system to wipe the devices if they were ever found.

The handsets had a number of features designed to minimise the risk of them being accessed and the contents downloaded. Users could delete messages manually, but they could also individually set “burn-times” - this would cause the device in question to delete messages automatically after a set period of time which could be as short as a minute.

There was also a “panic wipe” password that enabled a user to delete everything on the phone, if it had been seized by a law enforcement agency as the password could be applied remotely via the EncroChat administrator.

When the EncroChat administrators became aware that their system had been compromised, they sent a message to all users on Saturday June 13 2020, advising them to power and dispose of devices immediately.

The European counterparts gave the NCA messages sent via EncroChat, plus details of the user's handles and their contacts lists of other users.

Suspects had to be attributed to the handles via personal information that was also being shared on the phones, the court heard.

The defendants had no idea they were being monitored by police, but Mr Wright said Ahmed was becoming concerned about their security and largely migrated to the newer Sky ECC encrypted system - which also went on to be infiltrated months after EncroChat.

On April 18 2020 obtained Sky ECC devices and urged everone to start using them.

Mr Wright said: "Sky EEC was another form of closed network encrypted communication device which was gaining in popularity.

"In April and May 2020 as concerns began to increase about the security of Encrochat, and which has subsequently overtaken Encrochat as the communications device of choice for those involved in Serious Organised Crime."

A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: "As officers trawled through these messages, it was clear to see just how comfortable this group were, trusting these devices were completely secure. They weren’t just used as ‘dirty’ phones to conduct business on, they blurred the lines and began to use them for everyday conversations, sharing photos of their families and special occasions.

"On one occasion, Jonathan Cassidy sent a photo of something as inconsequential as a box of Panadol. However, the picture was sufficient quality that experts could obtain the fingerprint of the person holding the box. It matched Jonathan Cassidy.

"In one exchange on 18 May 2020, Jonathan Cassidy referred to plain clothed officers as ‘quick scruffy c**** with rucksacks’, the timing of this message coincided with an associate of his being arrested by plain clothed officers.

"Messages and images sent between the men, paired with cell site analysis, created a detailed timeline for detectives. Coincidentally, this all aligned with arrests and police activity, further consolidating it was these individuals behind the anonymous handles."

Defence lawyers told the judge the three had been in terrible conditions for nearly four years, enduring the coronavirus pandemic, and still locked up for up to 23 hours a day.

References from people in high places were sent to the judge concerning Jonathan Cassidy and Ahmed, saying they both had very different and good sides to their characters.

The court heard Jamie Cassidy now knew the horrors of drugs after counselling other inmates in prison and would steer clear of crime on his release.

It was told prison had been the best thing to happen to him as it had allowed him to turn around his life.

The three will be sentenced today.

A fourth defendant, Joshua Avis, 38, (above) went onthe run before he could be convicted and the judge told the prosecution he wants three monthly reports on police efforts to find him.

Jonathan Cassidy, of Whitewood Park, Liverpool, was jailed for 21 years and nine months for conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to conceal, transfer and disguise criminal proceeds.

Ahmed, of Moreton Drive, Bury, was jailed for 21 years and nine months for conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to conceal, transfer and disguise criminal proceeds.

Jamie Cassidy, of Knowsley Lane, Knowsley, received 13 years three months.


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